Mention your good fortune and you’ll knock on wood. Sound familiar?
By Amornrat Sidhu
All of us have at least once succumbed to superstition and done all sorts of puzzling things that are baseless or unfounded. Believing in these old wives’ tales triggers behavioural consequences we often can’t explain, just to negate any potential bad luck. So to further understand what drives our beliefs, Amornrat Sidhu speaks to a few members of our community who reveal what relevance superstitions hold in their daily lives. All interviewees have been kept anonymous to encourage truthful thoughts on the matter.
SUPERSTITION: IF YOU SWEEP THE HOUSE AFTER SUNSET, YOU ARE SWEEPING AWAY YOUR BLESSINGS
A 27- year-old lawyer
“I have been told this since I was very young, and even though it’s the only time I am able to clean on some days, I can’t get myself to do it! As I grew up, I tried to figure out what it was about. The best theory I formulated is that it may be too dark to dust off all the nooks and crannies, so maybe it is a better idea to wait until morning. We have electricity now, though…”
SUPERSTITIONS: DON’T CUT YOUR NAILS AT NIGHT AND KEEP A SHARP OBJECT UNDERNEATH YOUR PILLOW TO DETER BAD DREAMS
A 36-year-old mother and homemaker
“I never used to cut my nails at night, but then I realised that I was being stupid, so now I do. Also, when my daughter was younger, she used to wake up at night and say she was scared. She suffered from bad dreams, so I put scissors under her pillow, as I heard that keeping a sharp object under your bed can prevent them. Again, I realised that I was being silly and replaced the scissors with a Gutka (A Sikh prayer book).”
SUPERSTITION: TOUCH WOOD WHEN SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS
A 30-year-old ICT project manager
“I am not a superstitious person, but I might touch wood when something good happens. This stems mostly out of habit from seeing other people do it. I don’t pay much attention to superstitions otherwise, precisely because they are not factual.”
SUPERSTITION: DON’T CROSS OR STEP OVER ANOTHER PERSON
A 31-year-old teacher
“Growing up, my mother always used to say that as Sikhs, we don’t believe in superstitions. Yet when I was 12 years old, I stepped over my sister who was lying down in bed, and my mother asked me to cross back and not do it again. I immediately retorted by saying that this was a superstition. She felt uncomfortable realising that it was indeed, so she agreed to let it go. I remember testing my mother a few days later by crossing over my sister again. She noticed, but did not say a word! I needed to see her model her life lessons to trust them, and this has guided my views ever since. If you realise that you are making a baseless connection between two events, you can definitely overcome it with the power of your mind”
SUPERSTITION: WEAR SPECIFIC OUTFITS TO ACHIEVE CERTAIN GOALS
A 29-year-old property owner, married for one year
“I noticed that when I had on a particular set of pyjamas, any argument I had with my husband did not escalate and would resolve quickly. This might have happened just a few times, but when I made this connection, I couldn’t help but want to wear only that pair when I was feeling particularly moody. However, the moment I knew I was reaching for this magical pair of pyjamas, I would purposely pick another set — because, I mean, what nonsense!”
SUPERSTITION: DO NOT BRING BABY ITEMS INTO THE NURSERY, OR EVEN BUY THEM, UNTIL AFTER THE BABY IS BORN AND IN YOUR ARMS.
A 29-year-old housewife and mother
“This is a common superstition that many first-time mothers follow. Some families are so superstitious that mums-to-be may not even shop for their baby until he or she is born. The logic behind this is that overexcitement may draw the evil eye (nazar) and lead to mishaps, accidents and trouble. To my surprise, many new moms believe and follow this, despite the hassle of unpacking and washing clothes after giving birth. It is truly uncanny. However, when the same mothers are advised not to put their newborn photos on social media for the very same reason, they do it anyway. It seems that nazar doesn’t apply to online platforms!”
SUPERSTITION: PUT A BLACK DOT OR KAAJAL ON A CHILD TO PROTECT THEM FROM THE BURI NAZAR OF OTHERS.
A 50-year-old homemaker and mother
“Being educated, fairly logical and a little bit spiritually inclined, a simple question arose – how can a black mark that is man-made stop any evil eye? When, as a woman, I’ve put on kaajal a million times, I have still gotten physically and emotionally hurt. Ironically, sometimes it was the kaajal that irritated my eyes! It just didn’t make sense. There isn’t one baby in this world that has not fallen down or cried, with or without a black mark. Instead, I prayed for the wellbeing of my children, and obviously took care of them the best I could. If they were cranky or kicked, I did not blame the absence of the black mark. I think superstitions are all mind games. Our tendency to believe in them arises from powerlessness and fear. Giving into them simply provides the illusion of being in control, when in reality, we only become slaves to our thoughts.”
Even though all interviewees acknowledged the lack of substantiated evidence to support their claims and prophecies, it’s up to each individual how much they let these fallacies impact their everyday lives.
Those who believe in superstitions tend to follow just one or two, shrugging off the many others they have heard. Thus, it seems that a superstition might be followed only if it is convenient to do so. Furthermore, it seems that we can be very quick to adjust them to our will and change the rules, whether it is by replacing a pair of scissors with a Gutka or posting a picture of a newborn on social media, while having no diapers at home.
Although superstitions seem to have been passed down from generation to generation, and those who follow one or two generally have no idea where they have heard it from, it is totally possible to create your own superstition, à la carte. Why buy bulk when you can have yours made-to-order? All you need is cause and effect and maybe enough attention to notice the connection. Then there are those who hear of superstitions, have the urge to follow them, yet make a conscious effort to focus their behaviour on reason, not fear. Which one are you?